Category Archives: MINWR

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Foggy morning start

“This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; …”
― John Muir

The first part of my visit to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge last Tuesday (2/2/16) was about as foggy as I’ve ever seen.  So much so that I was happy to follow a large truck along SR 46 on the way over – better than feeling my way through the low visibility on my own.

For some reason, I’d taken a macro lens with me and I was happy to use it on the following image:

Nature's necklaceNature’s necklace – Foggy mornings dew along Blackpoint Wildlife Drive.  This is a 5 frame, hand-held focus stack.

One of my on-line friends (Dorothy) asked me on Flickr how I got the reflections in the dew drops.  They were really a gift from nature.  I could see lots of dew covered webs from the car, and I watched for one where I could frame the drops standing out against a clear background.  When I found this particular one, I had to figure out how to best image them.  One part of it was making sure the sensor plane was as close to  parallel with the lines of drops as possible.  I stopped down to f/8 for increased depth of field.  Then I focused on the front string and made a high-speed sequence while I rocked slowly forward.  This captured about 17 frames with different parts of the scene in focus.  Back at my computer, I picked 5 of the frames and made a focus stack to get as much as possible in sharp focus.  The last steps were to do some selective contrast / sharpening on just the drops.  I like the way it turned out.

As I explored further on Blackpoint Wildlife Drive, I saw something for the first time – a fogbow:

Fogbow and birds in the misty morning marshFogbow and birds in the misty morning marsh.  This is a two frame panorama (and exposure bracket) that I blended manually in Photoshop.  See this post for an explanation of my  technique.

Fogbows are mostly colorless because the water drops in fog are so small that diffraction smears the colors. Physics in action!

Eventually, the fog cleared and I was able to get some good light on a few birds.

SpoonieSpoonbill along Blackpoint Wildlife Drive

Double Gull stare-downDouble Gull stare-down – along the causeway into MINWR

You can click on these photos to see larger versions on Flickr.  And you can view an album of my MINWR photos here and some other fog / mist photos in this album.

I’ll leave you with another John Muir quote:

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir

That perfectly expresses my feelings after I got home last Tuesday.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go ‘walk with nature’ and make some photos!

©2016, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Life gives you photos … and photos give you life

After getting back from an exotic, far away spot (Death Valley), I returned to a nearby, familiar Florida locale yesterday.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, but there are 57 posts where I write about it here on the blog.  Make that 58 now.

Another Merritt Island MorningAnother Merritt Island Morning – I combined multiple frames to get everything in focus and well exposed. Blended manually in Photoshop.

Why do I like going there so much?  Even after so many visits, it’s impossible to see everything it has to offer.  I appreciate getting to know a place and watching it change over time.  I enjoy seeing the same locations in different light or weather, with different birds around.

Not Birds of a FeatherNot Birds of a Feather – An interesting group of at least four species

I do know that every time I visit, I see something beautiful – either something new, or something commonplace, but in a new light.

“We do these things not to escape life, but rather so life does not escape us.”  From a favorite t-shirt

And yes, sometimes I get back and the photos I made aren’t very good.  But I still have a wonderful day.  Much better than the owner of this boat had.

Sunken SailboatSunken Sailboat – On this one, I also combined multiple frames to ensure everything was sharp and to emphasize the smooth water.

Henri Cartier Bresson said that “You just have to live and life will give you pictures.”  And I think my t-shirt is right too.  Going after photos will give you life.

You can view many more Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge photos in this album on Flickr.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog.  Now – go live life – and make some photos!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Photographing Florida Weather

Florida has wonderful weather photography opportunities.  They’re not often the kind that you see from tornado alley out west.  But the clouds here are awesome too.

Lynn and I traveled recently (New Jersey, Virginia, and Georgia).  I realized when going through those photos that they lacked dramatic skies like we often see here in Central Florida.  Maybe our timing was just bad.  Anyway, it inspired me to put together this post with some examples of our weather along with a few hints.

We’d had several days of rain last August and even though afternoon light isn’t usually the best for photography, I decided to drive over to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and see if I could capture some of the weather drama.  This one is from the south-east side of the causeway.  There was a slight drizzle where I was standing and rain drops ruined several frames. This one must have been right after I cleaned the lens.

Weather over the WaterWeather over the Water (24mm focal length)

And this one was that same day, looking south along the back side of  Black Point Wildlife Drive.

Storm AheadStorm Ahead (stitched panorama, nine frames at 24mm focal length).

This next photo is from September of 2012, also at Black Point Wildlife Drive.  These clouds actually stopped me in my tracks and made me shift out of bird photography mode to make this B&W, IR image.  You can see a color version of this here.

A little stormyA little stormy (stitched panorama, three frames at 24mm eq. focal length).

These next two have been on the blog before, but they also illustrate my point:  Clouds and storms in Central Florida are photogenic!

Stormy ShoreStormy Shore:  Storm clouds blow through north of our hotel on Casey Key, Florida.  June 15, 2015 (stitched panorama, eight frames at 24mm eq. focal length).

And this last photo is from way back in October 2007.  I put it in to honor our fading Lake Jesup sunflower season.

Lakes Jesup Wildflowers and RainstormLakes Jesup Wildflowers and Rainstorm (105mm eq. focal length).

We don’t have mountains here in Central Florida.  And we don’t have very good waterfalls either.  But our clouds are just as good as anywhere else.  How are they where you are?

Photo hints:

  • Although you can see interesting weather all year, the best time here is summer afternoons and evenings.
  • The storms are big.  As you can see from the captions, many times I find myself using a wide-angle lens or stitching panoramas for this kind of photography, although some situations (like the last image) benefit from a longer focal length.
  • You can shoot from your car in many cases or just dodge the showers.  Do bring a lens cloth and maybe a towel or some plastic to cover  your camera if it’s not weather resistant.
  • Be careful with your exposures.  If you have clear sky behind the clouds you can easily blow out highlights in the image which will be tough to fix in post.
  • When processing your photos, try using some mid-range contrast / clarity to bring out details in the clouds.  Don’t go too far though or your results will look unrealistic.
  • Find yourself some good foreground locations so you’ll be ready to head out when the weather gets interesting.
  • And be careful – don’t get struck by lightning or ruin your equipment!

If you click on the photos above, you can see larger versions on Flickr and I also collected  other Florida Cloud and Storm photos that you can browse in this set on Flickr.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some cloudy photos!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Prowling Egret Composite

This is a five frame composite B&W image of a single Reddish Egret patrolling a small pool of water at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Prowling Egret
Prowling Egret

There was some interest in how I did this and it’s relatively simple, so I thought I’d show you the steps.

To start with, the light was very strong, so I overexposed to get details in the bird and this washed out the water / background.  I’d made several frames, so I processed all of them identically in Lightroom to force the background further to white and then loaded them into layers in Photoshop. 1

I selected all the layers and set their blend modes to “Darken” which forces only the darkest parts of each frame to show through.  This is a key step – with the right background, the blend mode does all the work and you don’t have to do any selection / cutting / pasting.2I made the canvas larger so I had room to work:3

Then I used the move tool (top of the tool bar) and selected each layer so I could place them:

4

Once I moved them to where I thought they looked good, I use curve adjustments on each layer to reduce brightness differences and followed with the clone tool to smooth a few remaining variations.  After cropping out the extra canvas, and adding a bit of clarity to the bird shapes I was ready to return to Lightroom.

5

In Lightroom I finished tweaking it (white and black points, sharpening, vignette, etc), converted to Black and White “and Bob’s your uncle“.

I’m sure there are other ways to do this, but I found this method easy enough.  If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments.  And if you’ve tried anything like this, I’d love to see your images.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!  And maybe some composites too!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Thoughts on Processing Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II High Resolution Photos

Introduction

I’ve been using an Olympus E-M5 Mark II for several months and I’ve mentioned it once before (in this post about algorithmic and computational photography).  I very much like the camera and the photos I’ve made with it.  You can see some of these in this set on Flickr.

Today I’d like to talk more about its high res mode and some things I’ve learned so far while working with it.  I’ll use this recent image from the north bank of Haulover Canal in Merritt Island NWR for my example.  By the way, please click on the photo, you’ll be able to see a higher resolution version on Flickr.

Daybreak at Haulover CanalDaybreak at Haulover Canal

For those of you who aren’t interested in this particular camera or capability, here’s the tl;dr summary:  Your capture and processing tools, technique, and skill make a difference in the resulting photo.  But that’s true of every camera.  And you already knew that, didn’t you?

Okay, for those of you that are interested, here’s some hints on how to get the best out of this mode.

RAW Import

I’ve found that the software I use makes a big difference in the detail that shows up in the file.  I normally use Lightroom for all my photos, although I also have DxO Optics pro and I think it does a good job with higher ISO images.  But I noticed issues when using either of them with the Olympus high-resolution files.  Here are three 1:1 crops, processed in the three different software packages.  These are just after importing from the RAW file, with (mostly) default processing, although I did adjust sharpening on the first two to try to improve detail.

Lightroom Processed

Processed in Lightroom  CC Version 2015.1.1

DxO Processed

Processed in DxO Optics Pro 10 Version 10.4.2 

Olympus Processed

Processed in Olympus High Res Shot Raw File Photoshop Plug-In 

To my eye there’s no question:  the Olympus software does a better job processing the High Res Raw file.  The result is sharper, with more detail – so I’ve switched to using it instead of either Lightroom or DxO Optics Pro for initial input of the high res files.  There are limited adjustments available with it, so after importing the file I usually add an Adobe Camera Raw adjustment layer in Photoshop to help fine tune the highlights, shadows, etc.

Motion Artifacts

You can see artifacts on the water surface in the crops above.  These are from the way the high res files are created.  Each file is composed of 8 separate captures that the camera combines into the high res RAW output file.  So any motion during capture will result in strange-looking distractions.  If your camera is moving, the image will be unusable.  So I use a sturdy tripod, a cable release and / or a shutter delay.  If part of the scene is moving (like water, or wind-blown branches) you’ll see the distracting artifacts in that part of the frame.  For some subjects (e.g. still life) this isn’t a problem – nothing moves.  For landscapes, you’ll need a very calm day or you may want to remove the artifacts in post processing.

If they bother you, there are (at least) a couple of things you can try.  Olympus also saves the first of the 8 frames that it uses to create the RAW file.  You can open this, up-res it, and mask it into the high res version wherever there are artifacts you want to remove.  (Note that you’ll have to rename the normal res file – your software probably won’t recognize the .ORI extension).  And you’ll have carefully process the normal and high res files exactly the same up until the point where you do this so that any color or brightness difference doesn’t show.  And finally, you’ll have to recognize that wherever you do this, the resolution will suffer.

For water surfaces, you can also try applying a motion blur in Photoshop and masking it in to hide the artifacts.  That was easy to do in this photo, since it was a relatively long exposure (1/2 sec.) and the water surface was calm.  Here’s a before and after 1:1 comparison:

Motion Artifacts

Motion Artifacts – prior to removal

Motion Artifact removal

Motion Artifacts – masked out using a motion blur layer in Photoshop 

Other Artifacts?

Olympus outputs 64 Mega Pixel RAW files.  Olympus themselves say there’s not 64MP of information in the file.  It’s more like 40MP, so they downsize their JPG files to 40MP.  When using this mode keep that in mind.

There’s not too much else to worry about, although I have seen some things that look like “hot pixels” in the high res images (2 or less per file).  I’m not sure if that’s what they are and I also don’t see them in normal res files from the camera.  But they are pretty easy to remove with the Healing Brush in Lightroom.  By the way, If anyone else has seen these, I’d be interested in hearing from you.

Red Dot Artifact

High Res “Hot Pixel”

Conclusions

So, the E-M5 Mark II High Res mode:

  • Is most suitable for still life types of images when the camera is mounted on a tripod and nothing is moving.
  • Is best processed from RAW by the Olympus High Res Shot Raw File Photoshop Plug-In – at least with current (August 2015) versions of software.
  • Offers better resolution and improved color and noise characteristics than the normal mode images.
  • Can be used in other situations (e.g. landscapes), but unless the subject is still, you’ll need to deal with motion artifacts.
  • Provides the greatest benefit with better lenses.  Lower quality glass could compromise the output resolution of the system.

If you capture images in high res mode and the artifacts are too difficult to deal with, you can always drop back and use the normal resolution file.  The results will be almost as good for anything except large prints (or pixel peeping).

Have you used a capability like this?  What have you discovered?

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Merritt Island and Viera Wetlands

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Viera Wetlands are two of my favorite places to photograph and I had time to visit both last week.  They’re each wonderful and seem similar, yet they can be very different.  When I was at MINWR, it was very quiet with few birds or other wildlife around.  July isn’t the best time for birds in Central Florida, so I wasn’t expecting much.

Blackpoint dawnBlack Point dawn – I’ve seen this area along Black Point Wildlife Drive in MINWR full of birds. Not last week.

On the other hand, Viera Wetlands was full of activity.  Right away, we saw a couple of Osprey fishing:

Osprey with catchOsprey with catch at Viera – always fun to see and a thrill to get a good, in focus photo

And as we walked around we saw Sand Hill Cranes, a Caracara, Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Swamp Chickens (Common Gallinules), a Red-bellied Woodpecker, Least Bitterns, Little Blue Herons, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, White Ibis, and Green Herons.

Green HeronGreen Heron at Viera – posing nicely in very good light

My friend Kevin M. was with me, and he saw a Yellow-crowned Night Heron.  We also spotted a family of four otters crossing the road, and multiple Alligators.

Why did we see so much more at Viera than Merritt Island?  Was it the weather (don’t think it was much different)?  Time of day (we were there a bit later)?  Water type (fresh vs. brackish)?  Vegetation?  Kevin’s luck?

I really don’t know.  I’m just grateful I went to both places and got to see so much.  The moral of the story:  If one of your local photo spots is quiet, try a different one.  You never know what you’ll see.

I have more photos from Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge collected in this set on Flickr.  And more from Viera Wetlands in this set.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog.  Now, go make some photos!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Algorithmic and Computational Photography

I have a long time interest in photography and a degree in Electrical Engineering.  I’ve also worked for many years in digital design, software engineering, and system engineering.  The changes happening in photography fascinate me.  Here’s an example:

TranquilityTranquility – An exceptionally calm morning in the marsh (On Black Point Wildlife Drive in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.)

I made this image yesterday using the high-resolution mode available in the Olympus OM-D E-M5II.  It’s a two frame panorama, but this discussion applies to single frame images too.  The camera comes with a 16 Mega-Pixel sensor and can generate images 4 times larger (~64 Mega Pixels) using some very clever built-in technology and processing.  I won’t go into how it does it (if you’re curious, here’s a good explanation).  If you’re careful and the conditions are right (no motion) the results are outstanding.  I’m also seeing  lower noise and better color results compared to normal resolution images.  Heres a small crop that’ll give you an idea of the detail captured.

An exceptionally calm morning in the marsh; On Black Point Wildlife Drive in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
A 1:1 crop from the photo above showing the detail captured

Each new model of camera adds more capability:  High Dynamic Range, Panoramas, Lens distortion / aberration correction, 3-D / post shot focusing (Lytro), face recognition, image stabilization, Live Composite, and many more algorithms are all being done now in camera.

Most of these (and more) can also be done with software on your computer or phone.  In fact, the computation capabilities inside your phone are one reason they’re replacing point and shoot cameras.  Algorithms / computation  can overcome many of the limitations of the relatively simple camera in your phone.  Look at the Hydra app for an example of this.

Photography started as an analog activity.  Capture the light via optics, film, chemicals, and sometimes (for experts) manipulation / fine tuning of the chemical process.  Create prints with more chemistry and manipulation of light during printing.

Photography today still involves capturing light using optics.  Instead of chemistry, most people use digital sensors.  And capturing the light as digital information allows us to apply algorithms using computers in many places in the process – either in camera like the E-M5II or in post processing.

I think the pace of change in the camera industry is slowing down at least with regard to sensors.  For instance, the E-M5II sensor is said to be identical to the first model (from three years ago).  But the rate of change in algorithms and processing is speeding up.  The new model has a faster processor with added capabilities.

Where’s all this going?  I don’t really know.  As they say:  “It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future”.  I do know it’s a very interesting time to be a photographer.  And if you’re a photographer, I don’t think you should ignore the algorithmic and computational side of things.  Some of the processing tools can provide exciting capabilities.


On a different subject, there’s a Clyde Butcher exhibition in town at the Maitland Art Center until May 16th, 2015.  If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend that you go.  The subjects / compositions / technique are wonderful and the prints are large and masterfully done.  Lynn and I went last Thursday and as we were leaving, Clyde Butcher walked in.  I very much enjoyed meeting him.

He achieves beautiful results with an analog, large format, black and white approach which would be very difficult to reproduce with a digital workflow.  That won’t be true forever.  What will most likely be true forever is that his kind of artistic inspiration and results will be extremely difficult to reproduce with an algorithm.


Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.